Author Interview: Chef Barrie Boulds and the Magic of Big Sky

To celebrate the release of our new cookbook The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook: Local Ingredients and Rustic Recipes, we’ll be posting about local eats and Montana recipes – be sure to check back for our post on the local eating movement, and a recipe from chef Barrie Boulds!

If you just can’t wait for more from Chef Barrie, pre-order your copy of the
Big Sky Bounty Cookbook today!

Beartooth Pass
A photo of the scenic view from Beartooth Pass (Author's Collection)

We recently sat down with chef and author Barrie Boulds about her upcoming cookbook with Jean Petersen, The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook: Local Ingredients and Rustic Recipes. Chef Boulds, a third-generation Montanan and a chef of nearly thirty years, talked with us about her passion for locally-sourced and foraged foods and experiences in the kitchen. Read on to learn more about her memories of growing up on a Native American reservation, how to make the perfect elk tenderloin, and her best tips for baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie!
  1. An easy question to start: Tell us about yourself, and how you discovered your passion for food and cooking.

I grew up in a really large family of eleven children. My dad had a huge garden in the backyard, and that’s where I first learned about sustainability and gardening. I also grew up on a Native American reservation, where it was very important to use every part of an animal. But I’d say it really started in college - I went to the University of North Dakota in Williston, and people would ask for me to cook for them just for fun, and from there it just kind of took off. I was even cooking for the hockey teams at one point. When I finished college, I opened up my first business and started catering.
  1. On the homepage of your website, you have the motto “Live. Love. Cook with Reckless Abandon!” (which we love by the way). Can you expand a little on what you think that means?

When I was first introduced to fine-dining, it seemed really odd to me that people would use words you couldn’t pronounce, or make food into something I thought was overly-complex. It seemed like they were wasting all of this time on complicating things when they could have been spending time with guests. Cooking isn’t about being the consummate host; it’s about spending time with your family and friends. It should be a passion of love and enjoyable, instead of trying to get everything perfectly right.
  1. Growing up on a reservation must have been a unique experience. How would you say that that experience has influenced your cooking?

I had a lot of Native American friends growing up, and going to their houses was always totally different than mine. A lot of their grandmothers would cook the meals, and so the food was usually things that could be gotten off the prairie. We didn’t eat TV dinners or mac-and-cheese there, so I grew up eating a lot of indigenous soups and meals.
  1. It’s clear that you feel strongly about both cooking and eating locally-grown and sourced foods, especially growing up on a Native American reservation. Did you find local cooking intimidating when you first started out commercially?

Oh yeah, definitely. To be honest, my mom wasn’t a gourmet chef, she cooked us the basics, so I didn’t really have any experience to tell me whether or not I was doing techniques correctly; I didn’t have that background of culinary skills. I was definitely a self-taught cook. It didn’t help that fine dining was confusing, and I just knew there had to be a better way. When I got introduced to Big Sky and started spending time with the people there, it was a game changer. My hope with the cookbook is that it shows that anyone can do what I’m doing, and I didn’t make it overly fancy or confusing.
  1. To follow up on the last question: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start cooking or eating locally?

My advice would be to go to your local farms and farmer’s markets, and just ask! “What’s your favorite dish made from your product, and how do you prepare it?” or “What’s your favorite ingredient?” I’d also get a good book or join a food co-op in your area, and see what the natural resources are available to you.
  1. What is the most unusual ingredient you’ve found in Montana? In which of your recipes is it most commonly found?

Huckleberries are abundant in Montana, but they’re hard for people in other states or in cities to get to. Here, I can just go alongside a stream and pick some to use in my dishes. I love to pair them  with my elk tenderloin, in a sauce for wild game or in a dessert, such as crème brulee, ice cream, or homemade  jams.

 Is there a dish that you would classify as quintessential-Montana? Why?

I would say the Elk Tenderloin with Huckleberry Demi-Glace, because you can harvest your own elk and pick huckleberries, which are unique to Montana. When I had a restaurant in West Yellowstone, that recipe was actually my biggest selling menu item. Elk is like butter on a fork when it’s prepared correctly, and tastes similar to a beef tenderloin. It has a unique flavor all its own though, because elk is low in fat-content and all grass-fed. There’s nothing processed in elk because they come straight off the land.

Elk Tenderloin with Huckleberry Demi-Glace
Elk Tenderloin with Huckleberry Demi-Glace (Author's Collection)

  1. It seems like the Elk Tenderloin has a lot in its favor then. Do you have any tips to making the dish absolutely perfect?

It’s really important to get a good sear on your elk, so a very hot pan is vital to getting the crust crisp on each side. After, you should put the elk in a hot (around 400 degree) oven for five minutes tops, and then take it out and let it rest. That’s really it! I only use salt on my elk when I cook it – it has such a great natural flavor all on its own.
  1. Are there any trends you foresee impacting/disrupting the food industry in the future?

You know, with all of the debate and controversy over GMO foods that are coming to light, I think the farm-to-table movement is going to make a big comeback in the sense that individuals and families are going to start growing their own foods and having gardens again. I see that a lot more restaurants are growing their own produce in their own greenhouses and gardens to use in their establishments and I think all of this is great. As a chef, I like to see that people and the industry are getting serious about where their food is coming from and what they are putting inside their bodies. 
  1. Now we have some fun questions for you. To start, what’s the strangest food request you’ve ever gotten, either for your catering business or restaurant?

I’ve definitely gotten some pretty weird questions in the past. We have beautiful streams and world-class fly fishing, so I would have people bring  me their trout that they caught that day and ask me to cook it for them. What’s funny is that I never did anything special with the fish – I’d just put salt, pepper, and a little flour on before pan-frying it in a cast iron skillet.
  1. What kind of weird questions have you gotten?

Many of the animals in the park are collared, so I’d get asked a lot why the animals weren’t on their leashes. I also was asked if the deer turned into elk at night, or where the fish would hibernate in the winter. We would joke with them a little and say the fish grew legs before digging holes in the side of the river bank.

Elk at Big Sky
Elk at Big Sky (Author Collection)

  1. What’s the one kitchen item/device you wouldn’t want to cook without?

Well, being a chef, it would definitely be knives, but I would also say my zester! I think that it’s so important to have fresh zested lemon on just about everything.
  1. Purely for our own interests, what would you say is the best trick for the perfect chocolate chip cookie?

Start with everything at room temperature! Try anybody’s grandma’s recipe. AND grey sea salt.
  1. And last but not least: what’s your favorite thing to eat?

My favorite thing to eat is pretty unhealthy for you, but I love, love Indian tacos. They’re tacos served on a type of fry bread that you can find almost anywhere on a reservation or at a fair. It’s not an indigenous food, but it’s surely cultural. Purchase the cookbook for the full recipe and history behind the dish!

Indian Tacos
Indian Tacos (Author's Collection)

If you would like to see more of Chef Boulds’ recipes, or learn more about the history behind some of Montana’s best ingredients for creating local cuisine, be sure to check out Big Sky Bounty this July!

The Big Sky County Cookbook

Were you previously familiar with Chef Boulds, or have you had the pleasure of trying some of her cooking? Let us know in the comments below!

Chef Barrie Boulds

If you'd like to connect with Chef Boulds on social media, check out her website, instagram, or facebook!